After five decades, ‘iconic’ Governors Point has a new owner – and possible public access

The Governors Point peninsula, which is south of Bellingham, is shown in this aerial photo from June 4, 2014. It has been sold for $5.7 million to a Canadian business owner, who is proposing to build 16 homes there while setting aside two-thirds of the land as a nature reserve.
The Governors Point peninsula, which is south of Bellingham, is shown in this aerial photo from June 4, 2014. It has been sold for $5.7 million to a Canadian business owner, who is proposing to build 16 homes there while setting aside two-thirds of the land as a nature reserve. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

A Canadian business owner has bought Governors Point for $5.7 million and plans to build 16 homes on the peninsula while setting aside two-thirds of the land as a nature reserve.

Randy Bishop bought the 125-acre property through his Governors Point Land LP. The sale closed Friday. It had been approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Western District of Washington.

Roger Sahlin and his family, who have owned the land since the 1960s, were the sellers. The peninsula off Chuckanut Drive south of Bellingham has been part of bankruptcy proceedings since May 2015.

Bishop’s acquisition was the latest in a series of twists and turns that have lasted for years.

The new owner resides in White Rock, British Columbia, but had previously lived in the Chuckanut area for five years, where he fell in love with its trails and coastline.

“It’s amazing,” Bishop said.

His three children also were born in Bellingham.

Bishop is the co-owner of Bocci, described as a contemporary design and manufacturing company based in Vancouver, B.C., and Berlin, as well as Omer Arbel Office, described as a design studio that bridges architecture, sculpture and invention.

Plans for the property – with its stunning beachfront, rich woodland and water views that include Chuckanut, Samish and Pleasant Bays – are to build 16 homes over many years and only on the Samish Bay side of Governors Point. That would make them invisible from Chuckanut Drive.

The “architecturally rich” homes, which will be limited in size, will be constructed of natural materials that will be nestled into the landscape to “limit visual interruption of the peninsula’s natural beauty,” Bishop said.

Bishop’s desire to set aside part of the property for a nature reserve earned praise from the Whatcom Land Trust, which has been looking for conservation options on that peninsula for 30 years.

“It’s probably as iconic a piece of property, next to Mount Baker, as there is around here,” said Rand Jack, a board member of Whatcom Land Trust.

Added Rich Bowers, executive director for the land trust: “Our early conversations with Randy Bishop encourage me to believe that such an opportunity may be at hand.”

He praised Bishop for his concern for the environment and community, saying it crated “fertile ground to achieve good things at Governors Point.”

There are some issues to be worked out – what those are haven’t been revealed – but the idea is to create foot trails that give the public access to overlooks and beaches on both sides of the peninsula as well as to its point.

Bishop said the proposal to preserve part of the land in its natural state and to give the community access to it “seemed like the right thing to do for the area.”

It was too soon to say when the first homes would be built or public access would be available, those interviewed said.

Twists and turns

Opposition to the number of homes proposed for the peninsula as well as access to enough drinkable water have thwarted development proposals, which date back to the 1970s.

The most recent proposal occurred last year for a development called The Pointe at Governors Point on 35 acres.

That plan called for selling seven waterfront lots, ranging from $1.2 million up to nearly $3 million.

Before that Sahlin’s company, Governors Point Development Co., had unsuccessfully sued the City of Bellingham in 2009 over its refusal to provide water for a 141-home gated community on the peninsula, which was another proposed development.

He had tried to convince judges that Bellingham needed to make good on a 40-year-old promise to provide city water.

Changes intended to prevent urban sprawl caught up with that vision for Governors Point. Although Bellingham had agreed to provide a water line to Governors Point in 1972, the city shortly afterward changed its rules to limit water going outside the city limits.

The case went to the state Court of Appeals, which sided with the city in 2013.

Sahlin then tried to sell Governors Point for an undisclosed price in 2014. It didn’t sell.

That was followed by an attempted auction in 2015.

Current zoning allows for one house on every five acres, or 25 total houses for the peninsula, which is standard for rural areas.

Friends of Chuckanut, a neighborhood group, was among those that had been concerned about previous development proposals for Governors Point. The group said its focus is on protecting the natural beauty and habits of the Chuckanut area.

Its attorney, Dean Brett, expressed optimism after hearing Bishop’s plans.

And although he doesn’t know Bishop well, Brett said, he had an impression and shared a story about a lunch that Bishop made for him. The cheese sandwiches were in exchange for a boat trip that allowed Bishop to take pictures of Governors Point from the water.

“After the boat trip, we came to my house and he unloaded his backpack and spread his ingredients across my kitchen counter. He had bread from the Breadfarm in Edison, artisan cheese from a Whatcom County dairy, crab, shrimp, hot sauce, capers and some fresh fennel,” Brett said. “He had a pot and a brush and some special olive oil that he brushed on the sides of the bread so they wouldn’t burn on the griddle while the cheese was melting.”

“He strikes me as someone who wants to do things right and gets a kick out of doing things right,” Brett added. “If his architectural office does as good a job designing houses that organically rise from the natural environment as he does building cheese sandwiches, we’re all in for a treat.”

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea